I have often maintained that comedy is the hardest genre for a Christian critic to review. E.B. White once famously opined that analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog–you can do it, but the frog tends to die in the process. Remember the Eddie Murphy concert film in which the comedian stopped in the middle of his stand up routine to tell a straightforward joke because he was afraid of his audience trying to describe his act to anyone who asked what was funny about it? Explaining comedy or describing comedy is a fool’s errand.
And yet what is the alternative? I’ve long advocated that laughter is an indisputable barometer of whether a comedy worked or not. Now I am not so sure. I’ve laughed uproariously at films (such as Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life) that upon reflection I have not found particularly funny. I’ve experienced films (such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Team America: World Police) that made one audience chortle with glee only to leave another audience stoic and uncomfortable–and wondered how much of my own response was conditioned by the audience I shared the films with. I’ve sat through films I’ve found crass (The Heat) or boring (Blazing Saddles) that are esteemed by my colleagues. I have lionized films (South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut) that have sent my disapproving friends to the thesaurus to look for new synonyms for “filth.”
And I have never, ever laughed once, not a single time during multiple viewings, at Some Like It Hot.
So what can I say about 22 Jump Street other than that I laughed? A lot. At times so much I nearly cried. The set up is that Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) go undercover at Metro City State College–McState, get it?–to try to ferret out the dealer of a new drug making its way around campus. General subjects of humor: winking acknowledgments that this case (and movie) is “exactly like last time” (only more expensive), our heroes looking too old to be in college, Jenko’s political correctness about gay slurs in the midst of a giant bromance that plays homophobia for humor, a father’s ballistic reaction when he finds out his daughter is “hooking up,” crazy professors with tenure who are therefore allowed to say anything.
Are there any jokes that I can repeat in a family friendly arena? I chuckled slightly when it was suggested the campus library was a good place to conduct crime because students never go there. And I did think the bit about the unit moving from an abandoned Korean church building to a “slightly bigger” abandoned Vietnamese church across the street was clever. Honestly, though, if you are looking for clever, what made you think you were going to find it here? This is slapstick.
I have no doubt that six months from now I won’t be able to remember a single joke in 22 Jump Street. (I couldn’t remember a single thing about the first film other than who was in it.) I may not even remember that I laughed as hard as I did. At that point, I may be slightly more likely to be shamed out of my marginal thumbs up. For now, I’ll will just say that my defense of 22 Jump Street is nearly identical to my defense of Moms’ Night Out. You can make a list as long as my arm of things that are wrong with the movie, and I won’t disagree.
But I laughed.
Edit: The film featured a joke about comedian Tracy Morgan. I can only assume that this was in the script months in advance. Given the actor’s recent car accident, it seemed poor timing. I wondered if that gag would be cut from the DVD or if by that time the studio would assume the unfortunate context would be forgotten.